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Law School Store Credit: File Photo , Ali Harwood

Penn Law professor Claire Finkelstein would tell you that our government does not always respect the rule of law.

To that end, she established the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law, through Penn Law, in 2012 to bring together academics who can stimulate policy change.

Today CERL represents scholars whose disciplines span from law to mechanical engineering and contribute to CERL’s roundtable discussions with policymakers, volumes of essays and briefing papers and to the information that members like Finkelstein present to individuals in power.

Last summer, Finkelstein briefed individuals at the Pentagon about the interrogation of detainees. She has also briefed the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Middle East Division about Islamic State group funding, according to CERL’s 2015-16 report.

Finkelstein defines the rule of law as the physical manifestation of the idea that our government is one of “laws, not men.” In other words, the concept that “no one is above the law.”

She explained that she established CERL after learning that the government had been torturing detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib despite chapter 18 of the United States law code that deems torture illegal. She disapproved of lawyers hiding the government’s neglect of anti-torture laws, as they were bypassing the rule of law.

CERL deals closely with military affairs as well. CERL executive board member Stephen Xenakis, a retired brigadier general and Army medical corps officer who now advises the Department of Defense, explained the connection between the rule of law and the military.

“We need to understand the consequences of going to war and factor that into the decision,” Xenakis said.

CERL released a briefing paper in February on the connection between opioid addiction and post-traumatic stress injury among veterans, issues Finkelstein said had previously been regarded as unrelated to each other.

The paper argues that veterans have been “disproportionately impacted by the opioid crisis,” as doctors often prescribe them opioids for their chronic pain from war injuries. As many veterans have undiagnosed PTSI, the paper continues, they are two times more susceptible to opioid addiction.

Finkelstein added that when veterans are prescribed opioids, they are seldom even asked if they have PTSI. She suggested this simple measure could save lives.

The report referenced a study from the McGuire VA Medical Center, which concluded that those with PTSI are four times more likely to abuse substances. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of veterans addicted to opioids rose by 55 percent, according to the National Institute of Health.

Xenakis added that this problem is larger than doctors — “We’ve got to recognize the marketing,” he said. The report referred to an article from The Fix and stated that the pharmaceutical industry has spent over $880 million to reduce restrictions on opioid prescriptions and that opioid marketing materials have been known to target veterans.

Finkelstein said that she has already received a phone call from the Pennsylvania governor’s office praising the briefing paper.

But she also noted that CERL’s fight to preserve the rule of law in government is far from over — the justice department’s justification of President Trump’s contacts with Russia and Trump’s public endorsement of the illegal practice of torture worries her.

“It is utterly demoralizing for members of the military and members of the intelligence services to have a president advocating illegal measures,” she said.

To Xenakis, who served a 28-year army career and whose father was in the military as well, CERL’s goal is personal.

“The rule of law is a foundation of democracy,” he said. “[CERL is] right in the sweet spot when it comes to what’s important to a democracy like ours.”